Biting into a field-ripened, juicy strawberry is one of life’s most exquisite taste experiences! Capturing strawberry’s fruity-sweet, delightfully floral flavor and beguiling candy-like scent requires true artistry. Strawberry is one of the world’s most popular fruit flavors, and with good reason. Read on to discover why the strawberry is so captivating – and how Blue Pacific brings that farm-fresh flavor to your favorite food and beverage products.
Strawberry flavor is incredibly complex: over 1,000 flavor volatiles contribute to its sensory profile! Understanding which natural flavor molecules, and in what ratios, are most important to strawberry flavor is the secret behind capturing the unique character of different strawberry varietals and styles.
We may think strawberries are sweet because they taste sweet, but a good portion of that “sweet” perception actually comes from the aroma and flavor! The freshest and tastiest strawberries are a fragrant bouquet of esters, with flavor notes ranging from pineapple to tree fruit such as apple and pear. Ethyl butyrate, one of the most important strawberry esters, contributes to the “ripe” fruit flavor we recognize in a freshly picked berry. Many wild strawberries, such as the French Mara de Bois, have higher levels of the ester methyl anthranilate, which smells just like Concord grape juice. There is even a family of key flavor molecules called hydroxypyranones that taste like cotton candy!
Strawberry flavor chemistry isn’t all about the sweet esters, though. Remember, there are hundreds of other flavor volatiles that give strawberry its nuance and character. Some of these, like the caramel-scented furanones and the grassy hexenals, make a lot of sense, but others seem downright odd. There’s acetic acid, the primary flavor of vinegar, which contributes to strawberry’s tartness and helps lift other, “fruitier” flavors with its high volatility. Strawberry flavor would not be complete without butyric acid, which has a very ripe, sometimes cheesy quality. Depending on cultivar or fruit style, there may be floral, peach, pine, and seedy flavor cues, too.
Blue Pacific’s talented flavorists expertly balance these naturally occurring flavor compounds with fruit acids to create the perfect natural and organic strawberry flavors, from the first sweet sniff to the last fruity taste. It’s a challenging job, but we love it!
Strawberry flavor isn’t one size fits all. There is a wide assortment of strawberry varietals and styles from around the world. Selecting the right strawberry flavor for a food or beverage application has as much to do with consumer preference as it has to do with application alignment. When it comes to strawberry flavor, our Product Development and Flavor Innovation teams work closely with our customers to meet formula requirements – all while exceeding consumer expectations.
When you think about the strawberry flavor of your childhood, what memories come to mind? Is it the intoxicatingly sweet, meadow-fresh flavor of a ripe berry plucked right from the garden? Or is it the leafy, seedy, and cherry tart quality of a wild strawberry growing in the forest shade? Perhaps it is the candied, caramel and stewed fruit notes of strawberry jam spread on a slice of warm toast. When we add creamy strawberry, potpourri or dried strawberry, and roasted strawberry to the list, the sensory landscape gets even larger. The perfect strawberry flavor really depends on its intended use and potential user.
Strawberry flavor can stand on its own, that’s for sure. But it’s snappy acidity and leafy green notes make it a versatile pairing for many other fresh and fruity flavors. Whether balancing the bittersweet astringency of red grapefruit with its caramel sweetness or leaning on its leafy green notes to blend into a spinach salad, strawberry is a berry with a bounty of personalities. As odd as it sounds, black pepper and strawberry are an excellent pairing, especially in high acid applications. The pepper helps reduce sour perception, creating a higher perceived sweetness, thereby revealing a more intensely fruity profile.
In novel flavor systems, strawberry gives consumers a point of familiarity and encourages exploration. A hard seltzer flavored with strawberry, rose, and rosemary is both interesting and delicious, while a strawberry and port wine gelato with a lavender mint swirl could set Instagram on fire. These perfect pairings are just the beginning!
Strawberry’s origins and cultivation
Strawberry is a low-growing, herbaceous perennial flowering plant and a member of the rose family. It’s genus, Fragaria, includes more than 100 different species, hybrids, and cultivars, the most commonly known one being the garden strawberry hybrid (Fragaria x ananassa). The plant has a fibrous root system that becomes woodier as it ages, producing long runners that root and expand the plant’s vegetation. Although accounts vary about the origin of the name “strawberry,” it’s thought that the original name of the plant was “strewn berry” due to the way the runners made the fruits “strewn” across the ground.
The flowers of the strawberry plant are generally white, ranging to pink or reddish. Botanically, the fruit of strawberry plants is not considered a berry; it’s classified as an accessory or aggregate fruit because the fruit develops from a ripened plant ovary and consists of an enlarged flower receptacle, like apples or pears. Strawberry “seeds” are actually specialized ovaries called achenes. Achenes are the true fruits of the strawberry plant, each one containing a single seed. They germinate easily and don’t need to be covered with soil the way true seeds do.
Strawberries are native to temperate regions in the Northern Hemisphere, but today they’re cultivated throughout the world. Although wild strawberry varieties can still be found throughout North America and parts of Europe, the plants and fruits are much smaller than their cultivated counterparts. They also tend to have a more intense flavor. The first known hybrid variety was developed in France in the early 1700s, from the wild variety Fragaria vesca. This variety was very small but had a sweet, flavorful taste. The American strawberry, at the time, lacked the delicious flavor of the French berry, but what it lacked in flavor, it made up for in size. The two were hybridized to create the fruit that we’re all familiar with today.
After the success of the Fragaria vesca, many countries that cultivated strawberries developed their own varieties to produce larger fruit and to be especially suitable to the climate and region. Although the United States was once the top producer of the fruit, China has quickly taken that title, producing close to 4 million tons of the fruit in 2020 alone. Other major strawberry producers include Mexico, Egypt, Turkey, and Spain.
In the United States, most strawberries are grown in California and to a lesser extent, Florida. California produces over 91% of the nation’s entire strawberry crop, with Florida taking over to produce the majority of the crop during the winter months. Over the past 20 years, the demand for the fruit has risen exponentially as consumers have shifted their focus to eating healthier diets with more fruits and vegetables. In addition, yield improvements have allowed the domestic supply to expand to allow for availability year-round. Today, strawberries are the 5th most consumed fruit in the nation!
Strawberry fruits are delicate and perishable, so they require special handling. Mechanical picking isn’t an option; instead, all fruits are picked by hand and transferred directly into small baskets or trays for processing. As soon as strawberries are picked, the sugars start to convert into starch, which is why a fresh-picked strawberry always has a sweeter taste than what you’d typically find in the store.
A Fruit of Love & Beauty
Strawberries have made their way throughout human culture, making appearances in everything from the writings of Virgil and Ovid to Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
It’s thought that strawberries have been enjoyed since antiquity, yet very little is known about the plant’s history until the Roman Empire. The Romans enjoyed eating wild strawberries and closely associated the fruit with Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. With the fruit’s sensuous flavor, brilliant red color, and heart shape, it’s easy to understand why it continues to be associated with love and Valentine’s Day – along with its close relative, the rose.
Later, the Romans began to associate the plant with fertility as well, due to the large amount of “seeds” adorning the fruit’s fleshy exterior and their easy germination. The Romans also believed strawberries had medicinal properties, using them as a cure-all for everything from depression and bad breath to kidney stones and digestive complaints. They weren’t alone in seeing medicinal value in the plant; in Asia, the strawberry was used as a detoxifier and anti-aging tea as far back as 2600 BCE.
In Native American culture, strawberries were believed to be a gift from the creator. The Oneida tribe used the strawberry in many ways. It was eaten fresh, dried into fruit “leather” strips, and mashed into cornmeal to make strawberry bread. After trying the bread, European-American colonists developed their own take on it: strawberry shortcake! The Oneida also juiced the berries to make strawberry water, which was used medicinally as well as ceremonially.
In medieval times, it was common for stonemasons to carve strawberry designs on altars and pillars in churches and cathedrals to symbolize perfection and righteousness. The fruit was often served at important functions, such as state affairs and festivals, as a symbol of peace and prosperity. The fruit’s associations with fertility and love also continued, and it was said that splitting a double strawberry with someone would cause both parties to fall in love.
Strawberry’s Culinary Uses
Sweet strawberries are a natural choice for desserts and sugary treats, starring in cakes, pies, pastries, ice cream, and baked goods. However, they pair equally well with many savory dishes and sauces. Strawberries can often be used in place of tomatoes for a sweet and tangy twist on recipes, like Caprese salads, salsas, or tabbouleh. Grilled strawberries and balsamic vinegar are a wonderful combination that makes brilliant use of the interplay of sweet, savory, and sour.
Aromatic woody herbs like rosemary, thyme, and oregano also work well and can add an amazing depth of flavor to dishes using strawberries, as well as jams, jellies, and syrups. Like many fruits, strawberries also pair well with many types of cheese (remember that cheesy butyric acid compound from the Science section?), and they’re outstanding in salad dressings and chutneys. With their bright, cheerful color and intoxicating aroma, strawberries also make a perfect garnish for a wide variety of dishes.
Discover some new ways to work strawberries into your menu with these creative strawberry recipes:
Looking for Natural & Organic Strawberry Flavor?
Blue Pacific Flavors offers every strawberry flavor profile you can think of, from the classic juicy-sweet, field-ripened strawberry we all know and love to popular fresh, jammy, candy, floral, and wild berry profiles, too. Our natural strawberry flavors and certified organic strawberry flavors have been creating memorable taste experiences for over 25 years! Request a sample and experience Blue Pacific strawberry flavors in your favorite food and beverage products.
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